Most colleges will ask for one to three letters of recommendation. You’ll usually need letters from your high school counselor and at least one teacher. College admissions counselors tend to respect and trust these recommendations. So it’s a good idea to get started early and choose your references (letter-writers) wisely.

Who should I ask?

Think about the teachers and other adults who know you well. Choose people who can write intelligently about your good qualities, strengths, and skills. Family members are off-limits! Consider asking:

  • Teachers (at least two)
  • Coaches
  • Club advisors
  • Work supervisors

Ask at least two teachers, since some colleges require multiple letters from teachers. You’ll likely want to ask teachers from your junior year. They had you in class most recently, and your senior year teachers probably don’t know you well enough yet to write a good letter.

When should I ask?

Give each reference at least a month’s notice when you ask for a recommendation. This will give them enough time to prepare and write a strong letter. Check each school’s process and timeline so you don’t miss any deadlines.

How will they know what to write?

It’s hard to give up your control over an important part of your application! Luckily, you can still have input into your letters.

  • Highlight your skills: Ask your references to focus on specific skills, qualities, and strengths.
  • Hand over your resume: Give your references your college resume, activity list, or a “brag sheet.” This will help them write a stronger letter.
  • Provide the right forms: Make sure you give your references the college forms, deadlines, and any other information they’ll need.

Can I read my letters?

Of course you’re curious! So can you read your letters? The answer is…maybe. Sometimes your references will be happy to share the letter with you. Other times, they might be uncomfortable. Some schools require a secure online format or a sealed letter in an envelope that they provide.

If a school gives you the option to waive your right to review your letters, consider taking it. It’s hard to resist the chance to read your letters, but it might help your application. Schools may give your references more weight and credibility, since you trusted them to write about you without your input or review.

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